The One About Sequels

I finally felt comfortable enough after the last batch of THE DARKEST MINDS edits to really commit to working on the sequel. Obviously, sitting down to write the second book almost nine months after selling the first book isn't ideal, but there were some weird scheduling blips in the beginning, as you might recall. When TDM was scheduled for Spring 2013, I was basically swimming in free time, then I got bumped up to Summer 2012 and I lost about six months of writing time. My contracts still reflect the Summer 12 pub date, and lists the due date for book 2 as July 15th, 2012. TDM is now coming out in December 2012, so I'm not entirely sure when book 2 is actually due, but I'm aiming to have a first draft finished by April or May or next year. (I just finished up copyedits on TDM, so ARCs should show up sometime in February, I think--hopefully I'll be able to share the cover Hyperion has whipped up before then!)

It took me about seven months to write the first whoppping 150,000 word draft of TDM, but it's taken me equally as long to edit it.  I tend to overwrite, which accounts for a lot of the editing, but it's the kind of book (as you will all soon discover!) that has a lot of plot, and it's still very long. Book 2 will probably be the same way, which is the only reason I'm a little panicky about things. In the lull between when I sold TDM and getting the first batch of edits, I wrote the first 30,000 or so words of it, but I made the (right) decision to go back and completely rework them. So why haven't I been working away on Sequel the past nine months? Mostly because I've been revising TDM on and off, and enough has changed in the course of the revisions that I felt like I couldn't dig in until I saw what else might change.

It was the right decision for me, and I'll feel better when I'm through the first quarter of the book, but I know that after I finish the book, I'm going to have to go back and rework the beginning again.  For whatever reason, I just struggle with beginnings.  My middles can be a little saggy at times, but my endings generally stay the same from draft to draft with a few changes here and there.  But beginnings, man.  I thought I'd never struggle as much as I did while I was reworking the opening of TDM, but I was wrong.  The opening three chapters of its sequel are going to kill me.  They are actually going to crawl out of my computer screen one night like the girl from The Ring and smother me.

Sequel writing is really interesting business. This is my first go with it, so please light a candle and say a prayer for both me and my poor editor. What's driving me nuts, in particular, is that awful "recap book 1 quickly" info dumps that I can't seem to avoid.  And they certainly sound natural, either.  There's a part of me that's just like, "Why can't I Empire-Strikes-Back-it and just assume that the people who pick the sequel up have read and loved the first one, and probably don't need to be reminded about major plot points?"  Then there's another part of me (who talks in a voice that sounds suspiciously like Gollum) that's all, "Yessssssss.  Recap it, Preciousssss.  We recaps it allllllll for the silly readers."  Then there's yet another part of me that wants to go off to rewatch all of Downton Abbey and pretend like the deadline doesn't exist.

This past weekend I went back and revisited my outline for Sequel.  I reworked it, I rejiggered things.  I had to figure out what the standalone plot was, and better understand how it fit into the narrative of the trilogy. Not a lot of writing got done, unfortunately, but this was just as important--about 50 pages in, I realized that I didn't have a clear vision for what the theme of the book was, or what the plot structure should be. TDM had a dominant theme to me from the beginning (interdependence), and follows the typical rising actions/climax/falling action curve.  In many ways, it's a traditional "journey" tale.  Sequel, on the other hand, was a bit murky both in its big theme and its structure.  I was really, really struggling to fit it into TDM's shape, and it just wasn't working for whatever reason.

Now, usually when I need to make a big decision or work something through, I'll 1) rearrange my furniture in my room or 2) start walking until I figure it out.  But since my apartment bedroom doesn't really allow me to rearrange things and it was too flipping freezing to walk the length of the island of Manhattan, I got to work painting an accent wall in my bedroom (actually, if you want to get technical, I color-washed it to give it some texture).  I just need to keep my hands (or feet) busy while my brain works something through.  I know, it's weird.

While I was working, I started thinking about other books and sequels I had read recently that really captured me.  As you may recall, this past summer I became obsessed with The Outlander series and basically read four 1,000 page books in two weeks.  Like, that level of obsession.  One of the things I've learned as I've been following my new Lady Hero, Diana Gabaldon, is that she has what--to me at least--is a totally crazy method of writing.  I've talked about this before, but I write in a very linear way.  I don't let myself skip ahead to the parts I'm dying to write, so I have some motivation to, you know, eventually get there.  She writes random scenes and stitches the scenes together later.  You'd think it would be a hot disorganized mess, right?  WRONG.  I was just watching an interview with her about how she labels each document and has ten thousand million folders to help keep herself on track.  The plot and characters therefore reveal themselves naturally to her, and she doesn't really plot ahead of time. Sometimes, when I'm reading as an author and not as a reader, it's obvious to me that this is the case (mostly due to repetitions or contradictions), but most of the time I'm so freaking amazed she can pull together a coherent plotline that way I just sit there and read in awe.

Okay, that slight tangent has a point--this point being, in the 20th anniversary edition of OUTLANDER, DG wrote an essay about her writing process.  One of the things she touched upon was how all of her books have plots that are structured in completely different "shapes" from one another--for instance, one is shaped like a dumbbell, another Hokusai's The Great Wave.  I think this is because so many new POVs are introduced as the series goes on (book 8 will have 8 viewpoints!!), but it really made me think about non-traditional plot structures and why some work and others don't.

Sequels have to be able to standalone, but on another level they build on what's already been established in the first book.  This is an incredibly tall order, and I feel a little daunted every time I open Sequel's Word file.  While Sequel doesn't have a physical shape in my mind (and probably won't until I'm done), I'm sort of fascinated by the fact it seems to be coming together in a five act structure, as opposed to TDM's three acts.  And while there is a journey aspect to it, the physical journey is slightly less important than the internal journey, and that's reflected in the theme (identity).

Anyway, I'm babbling now.  I know it's boring to hear about a sequel to a book you guys haven't even read yet, but thanks for humoring me!  As a reward for making it through this post (and for help getting me past 3,000 followers on Twitter), you can read a long-ish blurb from THE DARKEST MINDS over here.